Dry shade gardening

Asked March 20, 2017, 11:13 PM EDT

There are two big evergreen trees (Douglas Fir?) and a mature Silver maple tree in my front yard. Under those trees, the grass has hard time to grow, especially with evergreen trees dropping a lot of "needles" on the grass. I want to get rid of the grass and make a flower and shrub garden. Since the trees are on the north side of yard, there aren't much light in that area. I would like to know what perennials, small shrubs (deciduous or/and evergreen) and ornamental grass are suitable growing in this dry shade area. Thanks Joy

Jefferson County Colorado trees and shrubs

1 Response

A short list of xeric perennials and small shrubs suitable for dry shade under your trees include:

  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Kinnikinnick
  • Euonymus fortunei ‘Coloratus’ Wintercreeper
  • Mahonia repens Creeping Oregon grape
  • Vinca minor Periwinkle
Once established these will require minimal additional water. See details at http://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/garden/07230.pdf.

Full Shade plants that require medium amounts of water are described in Ground Covers and Rock Garden Plants for Mountain Communities http://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/garden/07413.pdf and include:
  • Galium odoratum* Sweet woodruff
  • Lamium maculatum Dead nettle, Spotted
  • Lysimachia nummularia Creeping Je
  • Sagina subulata Irish moss, Corsican pearlwort
  • Epimedium spp.* Barrenwort
  • Myosotis spp. Forget me not
  • Pulmonaria spp. Lungwort
Dry shade shrub options to consider, taken from Native Shrubs for Colorado Landscapes http://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/garden/07422.pdf:
  • Holodiscus dumosus rock-spirea,
  • Rubus deliciosus, boulder raspberry
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, kinnikinnik
  • Jamesia americana, wax flower
  • Juniperus communis montana, common juniper
  • Lonicera involucrata twinberry
  • Mahonia repens
  • Shepherdia canadensis russet buffaloberry
  • Symphoricarpos albus, snowberry
There aren't many ornamental grasses that tolerate full shade. You might investigate http://gilpin.extension.colostate.edu/programs/mtn-hort/native-grasses/

  • Blue wild rye is a perennial bunchgrass native throughout the Western States. It grows in small tufts, reaching up to 5 feet.
  • Wheatgrass is a slender, relatively short-lived grass. It is not as competitive with weeds as other wheatgrasses, but it is shade tolerant.

This gives you a few choices! Best regards,